No way to treat your listeners

"Freeway" Frank Depalo was introduced to Montreal at the St. Patrick's parade with co-host Lisa Player the day before he debuted as morning co-host on CJFM

The past month has seen a lot of staff changes in the Montreal radio scene. All three anglo FM music stations are seeing morning hosts leave, and at least two are introducing new faces to replace them.

Aaron Rand got the ball rolling by announcing he would be leaving CFQR’s Q Mornings show at the end of April. Rand has been hosting this show for two decades, so you can imagine how listeners reacted to the news. He’s got a lot of new Facebook friends and a lot of people posted messages to the Q’s Facebook page.

Though Rand himself reached out to listeners and communicated with them, the station’s management was silent. Mark Dickie, its general manager, didn’t return my phone calls or emails, and provided The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein with a pathetic quote that sounds like it came out of a fill-in-the-name-here press release.

As if to underscore a lack of respect for this dean of local radio, Rand’s seat wasn’t even cold before it was announced that Cat Spencer would be leaving CJFM to take his place … in September. (Maybe before, if the two stations can work out a deal on his contract.) This is still months away, yet for some reason they couldn’t wait 24 hours to make the announcement. What little coverage of this story appeared in local media had to be about both Spencer and Rand instead of just the latter.

Cat vs. Freeway

Learning that Spencer would be leaving, some Virgin Radio listeners also spoke up on its Facebook page. At least there, a few brief replies from the nameless Facebook page administrator saying Spencer had decided to leave. But otherwise, the station has been pretty silent about it. Program Director Mark Bergman hasn’t made any public statements that I’m aware of.

That contrasts, of course, to all the publicity it’s generating about its new star, “Freeway” Frank Depalo, who debuted on Monday as Lisa Player’s cohost. (You can read an interview Depalo did with Mike Cohen on his blog, and a story in The Gazette by Kathryn Greenaway.)

The same day “Freeway” started on Virgin Radio, the Q launched a new contest where it gives away $1,000 daily to people who listen to the morning show. It promoted it like crazy, including an ad wrap around the front section of Monday’s Gazette (hope some of that ad money trickles down to me).

PJ who?

And then there’s CHOM, who yanked PJ Stock and Merv Williams from their morning show. Perhaps it was unrelated to the other changes, or perhaps the station decided it needed to freshen up while its competitors are changing things up. We don’t know, because CHOM Program Director Daniel Tremblay isn’t talking.

Again, fans complained. Not on the station’s official Facebook page because it doesn’t have a wall. But there were comments here and elsewhere, most more upset at the loss of Williams than the part-timer Stock.

The same day the news became public, there was a flurry of activity from the morning show’s social media outlets, its Twitter feed (which had been dormant for more than two weeks) and its blog. Neither had any mention of Stock or Williams. Instead, we heard about Alouettes cheerleader tryouts and other ridiculousness.

As far as CHOM was concerned, it was easier to pretend these people never existed than to even briefly acknowledge and explain its reason for terminating them.

Listeners deserve better

Program directors aren’t under any obligation to talk to me. I’m just some guy on the Internet. But their own listeners deserve explanations of these kinds of changes.

Radio stations go through a lot of effort to build familiarity with their hosts. Just look at what Virgin Radio is doing with Freeway Frank. Listeners become attached to them and, if the branding effort is really successful, they become loyal to those hosts, even if they’ve never met them in person or heard them off the air.

And then, when the usual turnover in radio causes that familiar voice to leave, the station expects listeners to instantly forget about them, to not ask questions.

It’s a giant insult to the intelligence of those listeners. They understand how broadcasting works. They understand that people leave jobs that are no longer fulfilling for them (Rand), leave for better-paying competitors (Spencer), or leave because they’ve been fired (Stock and Williams). Simply coming forward and explaining yourselves to listeners would be a simple, albeit uncomfortable, experience.

I don’t have 24/7 logs of these stations, so I can’t say for sure about what statements have and haven’t been made on air, but if the social media sphere, the websites and the lack of communication with media is any indication, the strategy seems to be to sweep bad news under the rug and hope nobody notices it, even though it’s beyond obvious that they are.

Each of these three radio stations has gotten on the social media bandwagon, highlighting their Twitter and Facebook pages, and putting blogs on their websites. Listeners are using those forms of communication to try to seek answers.

They won’t get answers, because CHOM, Virgin Radio and the Q are being antisocial.

That’s a shame.

21 thoughts on “No way to treat your listeners

  1. Bert

    “…because CHOM, Virgin Radio and the Q are being antisocial.”

    Maybe that is their new format? All antisocial all the time? I finally gave up on CHOM when they gave up on The Bird and am about to give up on CBC 1 when they announce Rebecca Black as a sensation a week after the meme started, that Colin Mochrie played “Q” on ST:TNG and that the Should-I-Wear-Long-John-John-O-Meter is at “Probably”.

    Honestly I really wonder if my parents, when they were passing through my now-current age, thought that media treated their listeners as children or idiots.

  2. Vahan

    Steve I hear you and understand what you’re getting at with all the news about the morning radio shows musical chairs. As someone who grew up with the radio constantly turned on to CHOM I couldn’t believe my Lu k when Walkmans came out with tape and radio players. I could walk around with the FM popping and hissing in my ears all day long and I didn’t care. I was entertained by the programing and the DJs felt like a part of my city and spoke to me. That is when CHOM was independent and took chances with playing long songs and introduced new music to us. Now all the stations are much like all the malls along Ste. Catherines street. Once inside the maze I can’t tell which mall I am in. So I spend more time outside and I do the same with my “radio” online. I go outside the country for something different and entertaining. The owners of the stations could be as silent as mice on Christmas eve I don’t care no one is listening. Maybe the sound of the money being sucked out of their profits is enough for them. Go big go conglomerate. Look at the big banks in the US go bankrupt big.

  3. wkh

    Honestly this is all ~way too much drama~. Soap opera watchers even get over it when their characters are changed. This is business, not a family.

    1. Vahan

      I don’t think people are being overly dramatic. As I mentioned I grew up with radio as most people my generation probably. Terry, Ted and Patti woke me up and pushed me out the door to school. We would meet up at the front door of the school on the worst, cloudiest, coldest and snowiest days and the first thing we talked about was did you hear what they said on CHOM this morning. It was a sort of a kick in the pants to get on with our dreary day at school. What teen-ager enjoys waking up in bitter darkness in the middle of winter to head off to school. But these people made the first few hours of the morning enjoyable. Then lunch time would come around and we would travel back in time with oldies at noon and then come home to listen to more along with driving home music. So our lives basically revolved around that box on the table. I believe that the new overlords of these stations have forgotten their childhood and the beauty of what they have in their hands. They have zero sense of community, they don’t know the city and it is strictly money for them. I didn’t expect that Terry and Ted, for example, would be on the radio forever, but the overlords are cutting them down like a scorched earth policy of WWll. They are not allowing for listeners to have “closure” with the voices they were used to waking up with. The overlords feel that the swift ripping off of the bandage is better than maybe telling us the bandage could come off with some ointment.

    1. Elsa

      Obviously they still do, in their cars driving around, and I also listen to the radio while doing laundry sometimes….why would you ask a question like this

      1. Marc

        why would you ask a question like this

        I can think of two reasons.

        1) because of how overly corporate it has become; meaning so much is owned by so few. or
        2) lots of people who view themselves as “progressive” view stuff like radio & newspapers as things of a bygone era and it’s time to embrace the new & hip way of doing things.

        1. Derek Cassoff

          Granted, I don’t spend a lot of time in my car during the week — just long enough to get to the nearest train station — but the amount of time I spend listening to commercial radio has diminished greatly from even a few years ago. These days, I’m either tuned in to my XM satellite radio (100+ channels, zero commercials), or I’ve plugged my IPod into the cigarette lighter. The weather forecast is a click away on my Blackberry, whenever I want it, and if there’s a problem with the commute (ie. train delay), I get a text from the AMT. The times they are a changing.

  4. Mama Fagstein

    I never liked P.J. Stock, he was not the kind of person I wanted to listen to that early in the morning. I will miss Merv, he was a goof and a laugh. It`s sad that the only time I listen to radio now is to get up in the morning and even then only to get the traffic and weather. I was a big fan of CHOM in the good old days but old farts like me don`t have any radio stations anymore.

  5. Ted Bird

    If they tried to explain themselves, the decision-makers would only expose their own mediocrity. These guys could fuck up a one car funeral.

  6. Sheldon

    Steve, I’m not the least bit surprised that we’re not hearing anything from management. This really isn’t anything new. The trend across the board in commercial FM radio now seems to be “as much music and as little talk as possible”. Letting personality show through on the air seems to be a thing of the past now. Remember the recent experiment of piping in Terry DiMonte from Calgary for a noon-hour show? During that program, according to listeners, DiMonte was on the mic an average of 6 minutes during that hour! When a personality in Montreal like DiMonte can’t get on for more than 6 minutes an hour it basically shows that radio management doesn’t really want them there.

  7. Alex H

    It appears to me that they radio people try so hard to play it safe, and try so hard to keep everything on brand, on message, and on current staff that they have no mechanism, no way to handle departures other than to act like the person never happened.

    They are sort of like roulette players, putting money on each number, red, black, even, and odd so that when the spin comes, they can claim a victory. They don’t want to talk about the fact that they actually lost doing it.

    As a side note, a moment in this thread in memory of my friend (in passing) Martin Streek, he took his own life a few weeks after being taken off the air at edge102 in Toronto after pretty much spending his entire adult life there. While nobody can hold Corus responsible for what happened, it is a pretty grim reminder that radio is dealing with people, not numbers. Perhaps some of the people in radio can start to admit this again, and start making some human decisions. Given the chance, humans say hello on the way in, and goodbye on the way out. Why are they not able to accept that concept?

  8. Nick Maibroda

    Very well written post Fagstein! Having grown-up in Montreal listening to CHOM for years I was eventually forced to switch over to CBC Radio Two because I couldn’t stand the cookie-cutter way the station was being run. Thank goodness for Too Tall, Rob Kemp and Randy Renaud to keep the some decent chatter on the radio.

  9. Lewis

    Has Catherine Sherriffs been removed from the Virgin morning show? I finally got the change to listen to the new show this morning and Freeway & Lisa have been doing the news themselves.

  10. Karine

    I’m repeating myself but this is why I was glad to find your blog, it’s the only way to know what’s going on behind the scene WRT anglo FM radios

  11. Knowmadd

    What do you expect? Radio is part of the old world; disclosure is unheard of and the message/delivery of content is carefully crafted.

    Complaining about this situation is a bit like whining to a newspaper about not getting your letter to the editor published. They would probably think “if you don’t like it, start a blog”

    Standard commercial radio has less and less relevance each year and will hopefully be gone sooner rather than later, replaced by digital content that actually takes the listener into consideration.

    The time of the writer is here; people who can deliver engaging content to media consumers will be followed while the vaudevillian mouthpieces that are old school radio hosts will fade away.


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